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How To Make Espresso

Learn espresso best practices with the Wild Foods Guide To Coffee. Start pulling shots like a pro!


All About espresso

Contrary to what many think, espresso is not a drink or a bean, it is a method of coffee extraction as well as a coffee drink.

The method consists of forcing small amounts of water through compressed coffee grounds. This results in a concentrated cup of coffee. Contrary to what most people think, espresso has less caffeine than a regular cup of brewed coffee (typically 55mg compared to 155 in an 8oz of coffee) per shot.

Espresso shots form the base of popular beverages such as the latte, cappuccino, macchiato, cortado, piccolo latte, flat white, cafe breve and so on.

I've only recently learned how to make espresso, but I can say that it has opened a whole new world of coffee to me. I see how so many coffee nerds get so heavily into espresso. There's something about the method that is so elusive and intriguing, kind of like art.

You can pull one shot that tastes divine and then immediately pull another shot that quickly ends up in the trash. There are so many variables to control; the grind, the temperature, the beans, the speed, weight and tamper. A slight skew of temperature or tamper pressure can result in a completely different extraction. Not to mention the plethora of other variables you introduce when you get into the beans themselves.

How to brew espresso

Recommended Espresso Weights For A Double Shot

  • Ground Coffee: 18-21 grams 
  • Extracted Weight (weight of espresso liquid): 26-30 grams
  • Extracted Time: 25-30 seconds (how long it takes to reach desired extracted weight)

What you need:

  • Espresso Machine
  • Burr grinder 
  • Scale
  • Fresh Coffee Beans ground to fine size (about size of table salt)
  • Tamper
  • Filtered Water


1. Make sure you preheat your machine! The longer the better... ideally 30-45 minutes before. Keep the portafilter in the machine while preheating

2. Run a bit of hot water through machine and portafilter to flush out old grounds. 

3. Remove portafilter and wipe dry with clean cloth. Place portafilter on scale and tare. Grind your beans and place in portafilter until appropriate weight of coffee is reached(coffee basket)

4. Tap portafilter on counter or padded surface to condense grounds before tamping and wipe grounds level with your finger

5. Tamp grounds with a tamper. You want 30-40 pounds of pressure. Lean over counter and extend arm so that elbow is pointing towards ceiling to get an even downward tamping.

6. Give the portafilter handle a light spin to ensure an even extraction.

6.Place portafilter in machine and an espresso cup on a scale under extraction point

7. Turn machine on aiming for an extraction of 30 grams in about 25-30 seconds

8. Once you reach the 25-30 second mark you are aiming for, you will see the shot start turning yellow, or "blonding." You will want to stop the shot a couple seconds after this.

Common Espresso Problems

Shot extracts too fast - Try these:

  • Grind finer
  • More grounds
  • More pressure on the tamp

Shot takes too long, slow drip extraction - Try these:

  • Coarser Grind
  • Less grounds
  • Less Pressure on the Tamp

Watery shot - Try these:

  • Less yield
  • more coffee
  • finger grind
  • more pressure on the tamp

No or little crema - Try these:

  • more coffee
  • finger grinder
  • fresher coffee

Espresso Drinks

Single Shot - One ounce shot of espresso typically served in a small porcelain espresso cup on a saucer and with a mini spoon.

Double Shot or a "Doppio" - A double shot of espresso. Served the same way as a single shot.  Uses double the amount of coffee as the single shot.

Ristretto or "Short shot" - The first 3/4-ounce of espresso. Extraction is stopped before the "blonding" stage of extraction.

Lungo or "Long shot" - 1 1/2-ounce shot of espresso using more water than a single shot. The long shot can extract for as long as 60 seconds compared to a single shot that extracts in 25-30 seconds. You would think that a Lungo would be less bitter than a single shot due to the higher ratio of water to coffee solids but that is not the case because the additional hot water passing through the grounds extracts more of the bitter compounds of the grounds.

Caffe Macchiato - Shot of espresso with a "mark" or "stain" (Italian for macchiato) of foam spooned on the top (yum.. one of my favorites)

espresso drinks

Cappuccino - Shot of espresso with a top layer of steamed wet milk and foamed milk.

Cafe Breve - Shot of espresso with steamed half and half.

Cafe Latte - Served in a larger cup, a shot of espresso filled to the top with steamed milk. If you don't add foam to the top, it is called a "flat white."

Cafe Americano - Shot of espresso with hot water added to dilute. Named after American serviceman in Europe during World War 2 that would dilute espresso to make it taste like coffee back in the states.

Cafe Mocha - A latte with chocolate syrup whisked into the espresso.

Cafe Zorro - A double espresso with hot water added in equal parts.

Cortado - Espresso "cut" with a bit of warm milk.

Espresso con panna - Espresso with whipped cream.